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In this episode we connect with Gordon H. Chang Professor of History at Stanford University. We discuss his discover of a comic strip from 1943 that ran for eight weeks, depicting Superman in a Japanese Incarceration Camp and discovering subversive Japanese wanting to wreak havoc on America. The ridiculous of this is only recognized when it is aknowledged that there were zero incidents of subversive behavior by Japanes Americans before or during WWII. But the strip ran, reaching millions of newspaper readers across the country and stoking fear and distrust among the white American population. We examine the similiarity between the factless messaging power of strip like the Superman one and current meme and social media posts stoking beliefs and spreading misinformation.
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Gordon H. Chang is professor of history at Stanford University and the Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities. In 2019, he published Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic History of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and, as co-editor, The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental (Stanford University Press).
These books draw from more than seven years of work conducted by the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford which he has co-directed. His other books include Friends and Enemies: The United States, China, and the Soviet Union, 1948-1972; Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and his Internment Writings, 1942-1945; and Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China. He edited or co-edited Asian Americans and Politics; Chinese American Voices, with Judy Yung and Him Mark Lai; and Asian American Art: A History.
"Here's always a sort of a question mark of how could the Roosevelt administration, Franklin Roosevelt being thought of as prototypical liberal and his administration full of what we would call liberals today, even leftists, Eleanor Roosevelt a champion for racial justice and rights, and a number of other people in labor department. It was a very liberal administration. How could that administration do what it did with regards to Japanese-American incarceration?"
Medium History explores memories and moments through creativity and expression, capturing the cultural ethos of that time and place through storytelling and representation. Visual material culture, such as art, and other multimodal forms can elicit responses, emotions, and opinions—human expressions, tied to temporal and cultural aesthetics. This program explores how creative mediums provide context for history beyond dates, and names, and figures.
Partnering with Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University, this series will explore how comics, comic books, and graphic novels from and about the Japanese American Incarceration following Executive Order 9066, humanize the tragic experience, allowing the stories to live long past the lives of those who experienced it, and ensuring this never happens again. Supported by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, a state-funded grant project of the California State Library, this series is designed to be a companion to the interactive web project, Images and Imaginings of Internment: Comics and Illustrations of Camp.
Guest: Gordon H. Chang
Hosts: Jon-Barrett Ingels
Produced by: Past Forward
[00:00:03] Gordon Chang: Now, that imagery that you referred to, I think it's very, very important to keep in mind because the enemies in World War II were Hitler and the Nazis. Not even Hitler and the Germans, it was Hitler and the Nazis. The propaganda posters in most of the entertainment industry that you see, including comics, makes it clear that you were fighting the Nazis.
That distinction was not made with regard to the Japanese, the Tokyo enemy. There it was Tōjō and the Japanese officers and military, but it was the Japanese people. They were depicted in the most horrific ugly ways as subhuman, as vermin, as reptiles, as not really human or barely human, but certainly eligible or demanding for extinction.
[00:00:52] Host: Welcome to Medium History, a collaboration between Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University and the curious minds at Past Forward. This series is an exploration of history through multimodal art and expression, allowing us to uncover hidden complexities often overlooked by conventional textbooks. We observe visual material culture, that is the art, artifacts, music, storytelling, fashion, and other expressions of a particular time period, and consider its profound impact on our understanding of the past, going beyond mere dates and names to reveal the multifaceted layers of the human experience.
It's about immersing ourselves in the emotions, opinions, and cultural subtleties that mold our world. In this series, we engage with authors, artists, and educators to cast a fresh perspective on the history of Japanese-American incarceration through the lens of creativity and expression, specifically the lens of the comic book and the graphic novel.
I'm your host, Jon-Barrett Ingels, and in this episode, we connect with Gordon Chang, professor of history at Stanford University, to discuss his research and his article for AmerAsia Journal about the widely distributed Superman comic, which, in 1943, had the Man of Steel infiltrate an imagined terrorist organization within the Japanese American incarceration camps. Thank you for listening.
“The newspapers wanted to sell copies. One way to do that was to have running stories, that is, comics. People would subscribe or read the daily newspaper because they wanted to keep up on what was going on in the comic strip. That gave an opportunity to writers and illustrators to come up with storylines that might be appealing. Thus, we have this great first superhero, Superman.”
Gordon, I'd love to start with just a brief history lesson of sorts of the Superman comic. We're in the wake of the depression at the end of the 1930s and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster release this comic strip. Was it a comic strip at first and then a comic book or vice versa?
[00:02:54] Gordon: I think it was a comic strip. We can recall that comics were booming at the time in the 1930s, they were a diversion of entertainment for the reading public. They were easy to read, and people were entertained, and they would be comparable to our graphic novel and, in some ways, even like social media today. That is, they were somewhat informative, but entertaining.
People didn't take them literally, certainly, but they were made possible because of the mass distribution of newspapers at the time. The newspapers wanted to sell copies. One way to do that was to have running stories, that is, comics. People would subscribe or read the daily newspaper because they wanted to keep up on what was going on in the comic strip. That gave an opportunity to writers and illustrators to come up with storylines that might be appealing. Thus, we have this great first superhero, Superman.
[00:03:57] Host: Yes. First superhero is key because we're inundated with this superhero concept right now in modern era. This really was the first superhero, the Man of Steel, the impenetrable, faster than a speeding bullet. There was never at that time this godlike figure before.
[00:04:23] Gordon: Well, he certainly was godlike and superhuman. People make… scholars make analogies to other gods and super beings in western European history. Also, it should be pointed out that the other inspiration for this is patriotism. Superman was an American. He was dressed in red, white, and blue. He lived in, almost all the stories take place completely in the United States.
The rest of the world doesn't really exist. He's some might say an embodiment of American power and attention. He looked prototypical midwestern, even though he's born in outer space somewhere. He resides as Clark Kent in a city which is like New York City. It's all very much American, even though it's very imagined.
[00:05:14] Host: I mean, the radio serial created the “fights for truth, justice, and the American way.” That was his cause. That was what he wanted to protect.
[00:05:30] Gordon: From our vantage point, he was not very radical at all. He really didn't uphold justice as we like to think of most of us think about it today. Race is almost absent, racial justice, certainly, but there's also a hint of the dangers on the horizon are in the international sphere, truth, justice, and American way. That is, there were forces in the world, militarism and fascism and Nazism, that were rising or had risen and taken power.
There was a backdrop to this story.
“For a good number of years, most Americans, middle Americans, white Americans had a high degree of agreement which is important to note because what you see in the cultural sphere is you can interpret as being pretty indicative of what's appealing to and what's being consumed by the vast majority of Middle Americans.”
[00:06:04] Host: In Look magazine, there was a two-page spread of how Superman would end the war. This is before America's involvement. It's Superman apprehending Hitler and Stalin and taking them to justice, so to speak.
[00:06:21] Gordon: Well, one thing we need to keep in mind as audiences today is that the audiences back then in the 30s and 40s had largely a very different mindset. Certainly, there were marginalized groups and radical groups and disenfranchised groups or dissatisfied groups. What we might call the consensus, the American consensus, that is the agreement that the large portion of the American population, particularly white population held was very, very high.
We're so polarized. We've had other times of division, but not to the extent of the polarization today. At that time, the sense of unanimity or agreement, particularly in so-called, say, middle America was very, very high. That existed all the way up through the 1960s. For a good number of years, most Americans, middle Americans, white Americans had a high degree of agreement which is important to note because what you see in the cultural sphere is you can interpret as being pretty indicative of what's appealing to and what's being consumed by the vast majority of Middle Americans.
[00:07:41] Host: I think there's another interesting factor to this character is that he is an alien. Essentially an immigrant to America, but from outer space. He is Anglo in appearance and really represents that came from somewhere else and now is here defending Americana and the American way of life.
[00:08:11] Gordon: Yes, he's Germanic looking, not just Caucasian, but he's Northern European in appearance and so forth. That's, I guess, representative of what people thought of someone who would be prototypically American. Now that he's an alien or a form really doesn't intrude very much. Although you're right to point out that he comes from another galaxy or somewhere out in the universe.
In some ways that makes it more appealing because he's non-denominational, so to speak, not Spanish or Italian or something like that. He can be whatever we make him to be.
[00:08:49] Host: Then only a few years after this comic is released, America enters into the war and the propaganda machine really starts taking off. Everyone is everyone. I'm not talking about people. I'm talking about characters are involved. You have Warner Brothers using Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to sell war bonds. Disney is using Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and they're even participating in the war.
In these cartoons, you have that sense of who the enemy is. You have Hitler and the Germans and then you have this really stereotypical racist, anti Japan image that we're still looking at as enemies. You're not looking at it as Americans at this point, it's the foreign enemy. It really is helping to stoke that war effort.
[00:09:55] Gordon: A couple of thoughts about what you just said. One about a propaganda machine. Now, it must be said that there was no formal dictate from Washington, DC, of what a cultural industry should do, Hollywood newspapers and so forth. It was quite a scrupulous effort to keep things pretty much along the lines of before Pearl Harbor. That is to say people had the freedom to say this or do that and to advocate for this or that.
There was no formal mechanism. The Office of War Information was more of a sort of oversight. There was evaluation. It was an area to collaborate with the private industry and to help inform Washington policymakers of what's going on, but there's no propaganda machine in the sense of some center pumping out a line.
Nevertheless, as I said, there was a great degree of consensus and agreement or patriotism after Pearl Harbor. There was overwhelming support for the war and the belief that America should be patriotic and support the war effort, should go enlist. I had an uncle who had just graduated from college. He enlisted and went in the Army. He was Chinese-American, and eventually, he got killed in the war. There was a great tragedy. Many people suffered great tragedies, but people sacrificed because they thought that was not just necessary to fight fascism, but also it was just patriotism.
The idea of patriotism is very strong still in the country that you did whatever the government wanted to do. The response of Hollywood and the cultural industry was very much along these lines of being very supportive of war effort and responding overall positively to the requests or the urgings of Washington to help sell war bonds, to be careful about spies. Much of this operated without dictate.
Now that imagery that you have referred to, I think it's very, very important to keep in mind because the enemies in World War II were Hitler and the Nazis, not even Hitler and the Germans, it was Hitler and the Nazis. The propaganda posters, and most of the entertainment industry that you see, including commissary, it makes it clear that you're we're fighting the Nazis unlike World War I, where German-Americans were often confused as part of the German enemy during World War I.
Part of that was in the memory of people, and people wanted to make a clear distinction between the fascists and the Nazis and the German people. Of course, among the German people, there were a lot of people who were anti-fascists, who were communists, who were social, all sorts, liberals. In the United States, there was that distinction that was made. That distinction was not made with regard to the Japanese, the Tokyo enemy.
There it was Tōjō and the Japanese officers and military, but it was the Japanese people. They were depicted in the most horrific, ugly ways as subhuman, as vermin, as reptiles, as not really human or barely human, but certainly eligible or demanding or for extinction. That was a reason why, well, part one of the reasons why the war in the Pacific was fought in a very different way than in the European theater.
The fighting in the Pacific, the atrocities, mutilations, and killings were just so brutal. It was as a phrase of the title of a very well-known book, which I would recommend to your readers, is called War Without Mercy. That's a war in the Pacific by John Dower, the classic book, which documents this hatred of the Japanese enemy.
“I saw this in the papers of the Truman administration, and particularly Philleo Nash who was working at the OWI and also working for the White House to monitor minority, what they called minority responses to the war. Wanted to know how the public was responding to the war effort here in the early stages of the war. I was astounded to find this whole discussion of the Superman strip, and then that led me to go search out the strip themselves.“
[00:13:58] Host: In the war, we're fighting on our two fronts, but in that early period, this god-like ultra-American Superman character isn't necessarily going and doing what a being like that could do in the war. It was used more for war bonds and supporting the war effort here at home. Is that correct?
[00:14:25] Gordon: Well, the comics do get involved. You have Superman, you have Terry and the Pirates, there's another one, there are soldiers who do get involved in the war, and then there are all sorts of wartime stories. This story was unique because it does take place within the United States.
I'll give you a little background to the writing of the essay that I wrote about Superman, is I had never heard about Superman visiting, they called the relocation centers, the internment centers, whatever it was called. I happened to stumble across this information, this material, at the Truman Library, Truman Presidential Library out in Missouri, where I was there doing some other research for my work on diplomatic history. I saw this in the papers of the Truman administration, and particularly Philleo Nash who was working at the OWI and also working for the White House to monitor minority, what they called minority responses to the war. Wanted to know how the public was responding to the war effort here in the early stages of the war. I was astounded to find this whole discussion of the Superman strip, and then that led me to go search out the strip themselves. This is not just a simple story, a Superman going and stopping some bad things from happening, but it's quite a complex story, actually, and more akin to like what we call a graphic novel as opposed to in comics.
[00:15:53] Host: Let's give a little explanation for listeners who don't know what the Office of War Information is and does, and what role Philleo Nash held in that.
[00:16:07] Gordon: The OWI, as I said, was not a machine prop pumping out propaganda. It was an effort to link private sector with government and to enable the government to know what's going on in the cultural and political sector beyond Washington, and also in a light way, to encourage private industry to understand various ways it could support the war efforts. Bonds or getting people employment or stopping discrimination against women going into industry and helping private industry understand the attitude of Washington.
Part of the task was, as I said, to have Washington understand, or White House, the executive, understand what was going on in the public because public opinion was very important for Washington to understand in terms of prosecuting the war. This is why Philleo Nash, who was a liberal and involved in cultural activities for some time and afterwards in his career, became quite well known, and was involved in this Office of War Information, as a number of other, what we would call today liberals.
Here's always a sort of a question mark of how could the Roosevelt administration, Franklin Roosevelt being thought of as prototypical liberal and his administration full of what we would call liberals today, even leftists, Eleanor Roosevelt a champion for racial justice and rights, and a number of other people in labor department. It was a very liberal administration. How could that administration do what it did with regards to Japanese-American incarceration?
That, in itself, I think is telling of what I call the limits of liberalism during the war times. That despite the credentials of some of many people, that it fell short, clearly far short, or it didn't extend entirely to think about liberal democracy and race, whether regard to African-Americans or Japanese-Americans. It shows a contradiction within the Roosevelt administration.
Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066 that gave the authority to the Western defense command to do what it needed to secure the area. Now, Japanese-Americans, it must be said, race is not, or ethnicity is not mentioned at all in 9066. It just gives the authority to the military officials, and they carried it out as they understood it. Everyone knew at the time the administration are giving them the authority would result in the incarceration.
That also gives you a sense of the tensions within the policy that they knew that they were going into territory that they didn't really want to go into with some of them. They knew it was touchy, but they wanted to try to obfuscate. They tried to use terms to avoid accuracy. That is to say, this is evacuation. The first strip talks about the federal government evacuating Japanese from the West Coast. Now, evacuation or relocation, if you're working for a company and they move the headquarters, you relocate with them, or evacuate, there's a flood.
[00:19:40] Host: Natural disaster.
[00:19:41] Gordon: For your own safety, for your own good. They used these euphemisms as opposed to incarceration, removal, imprisonment, and things that we use, the words today. At that time, it's indicative of this among the administration, some level of conscious, but at the same time, going ahead with this terrible deed of trying to obscure it in different ways. That comes out in the comic strip as well.
“Vast majority of the American population, including Liberals and Leftists and even the Communist Party, supported the removal, the incarceration of Japanese. It was astounding. That's, again, going back to the idea of consensus. There was a sense that these camps were controversial and that's why Nash immediately understood that this [comic] had to be monitored.”
[00:20:11] Host: There was an advanced notice that the OWI received that this strip was going to be released. How far in advance did they know what it would entail? Which I don't think we talked about how popular the Superman comic strip was at this time, how popular it became within a year of its existence.
[00:20:34] Gordon: Yes, it was a hit, as they say, sort of like Barbie is today. [laughs]
[00:20:39] Host: Right.
[00:20:39] Gordon: In our moment, it resonated with the public. There was fantasy, but also this tremendously powerful figure that you could put upon him anything you wanted. You could do anything as comes out in this bizarre storyline which we can talk about in a moment. The notice came out or Nash learned about it a few weeks ahead of time and so he was quite concerned right away because already, and here it is a year or two, less than two years, into German camps that there was, from the beginning, controversy about it and there was sensitivity about it among some who were critical, but as I say in the article, very, very few who were opposed to the decision.
Vast majority of the American population, including Liberals and Leftists and even the Communist Party, supported the removal, the incarceration of Japanese. It was astounding. That's, again, going back to the idea of consensus. There was a sense that these camps were controversial and that's why Nash immediately understood that this [comic] had to be monitored.
[00:21:55] Host: There was nothing they could do to stop it at that time?
[00:21:59] Gordon: Not at that time, no. This was not the way of how things worked. The best they could do was to monitor and to suggest revision.
[00:22:06] Host: Changes.
[00:22:07] Gordon: Yes, within the basic storyline which it does and that comes out eventually in the storyline.
[00:22:13] Host: Well, let's take this moment to give the overview. Now, this strip, it's not just a one-day story like you said. This strip ran, was it six days a week?
[00:22:26] Gordon: Yes, five, six days a week for eight weeks, something like that.
[00:22:28] Host: Eight weeks.
[00:22:29] Gordon: Yes.
"The story begins with actually Perry White, an interesting name, of who's the editor of the Daily Planet, sort of a New York Times or New York Daily News, of Metropolis, and he orders or asks Clark Kent, not Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who were his chief reporters, to go do a story on these evacuation or relocation centers because there was a great deal of interest and curiosity about them in the American public."
[00:22:30] Host: That's a lot of story that they put into this. Give us a little explanation of what the story is of this god-like, proto-American, Man of Steel character being asked to go into the incarceration camp, or as they call it, the relocation camp.
[00:22:51] Gordon: Yes, it ran for a long time and any listener can go and locate those panels themselves. You just have to find a newspaper that carried the comic strip. It was carried by hundreds of newspapers around the country, so local newspapers, national newspapers carried it. This was a go-to. Morning you open your paper and you go, look, read Superman. The story begins with actually Perry White, an interesting name, of who's the editor of the Daily Planet, sort of a New York Times or New York Daily News, of Metropolis, and he orders or asks Clark Kent, not Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who were his chief reporters, to go do a story on these evacuation or relocation centers because there was a great deal of interest and curiosity about them in the American public.
As any cultural product must do to be successful, it has to speak to some level of public interest or curiosity concern. Right from the beginning, the strip tells us that this is responding to what the writers of the strip understood, which was there was a great deal of interest in these places and this would make for a good story. Clark Kent and Lois, now this is another disguise, Clark Kent is in disguise, a lot of this is about disguise, about not knowing. Clark Kent is Superman, as we know, but Perry White doesn't know this. They go, they are welcomed by military and the military seemed to be humane people and they talk about how as much as possible the camp is a very humane place.
It's not a police prison with police running around and there are people in cells, but it's pretty much a self-governing unit surrounded by the military on the perimeter, but within the camps, not quite accurately described, but he says that the Japanese American pretty much rule themselves, although there were camp administrators who, curiously in the official literature at the time, are called the Caucasians. Again, to try to obscure that here they are administrators, they're like prison camp administrators, but they're called the Caucasians as opposed to the internees or the Japanese. This is a very bizarre arrangement.
He goes and very quickly, Clark Kent using his Superman eyes, reveals that there is a plot. There are these nasty bad Japanese in the camp who are creating trouble or mischief and intend to kidnap the visitors from outside, Clark Kent and Lois. Clark Kent slips away, and the military captain and Lois Lane are walking around and they're captured by this bad group of Japanese inside the camp and are threatened with harm. Then Superman breaks in and releases them. That all happens very early in the story, so you think, well, end of story, but in some ways, it's just the beginning of the story.
[00:26:13] Host: When they're in the strip, these subversive Japanese incarcerees are getting weapons from soldiers. They've found a way to whatever the connection is to obtain weapons, which you write about how that shows the weakness of the military force in this strip showing that there would be some kind of a subversive element of American soldiers giving the detainees weapons.
[00:26:48] Gordon: Well, what is happening here is the comic strip is also responding to popular opinion or popular thinking, and that ranged. There were some who were very uncomfortable with the camps, who were more critical of them, but those to the other end, including high-placed political figures, representatives, senators, who thought the relocation centers were too nice. The federal government was coddling this suspect enemy race, as they were called, even by Washington documents, an enemy race. Philleo Nash is worried, not so much this is going to bring more attention to the incarceration of Japanese Americans but would feed into this criticism of the federal government that it was coddling Japanese Americans.
This episode of where these bad guys somehow are able to exist, to form a trouble, to get guns and some explosives, something from somebody would feed into this popular notion there were hearings going on about the administration of these camps that they were too easy on this dangerous population.
There is this question where does this group of bad guys get these weapons? Clark Kent or Superman, he's so smart, realizes there have to be other people involved in this plot. They are somehow smuggling things into the center or smuggling stuff out, and that's when he discovers he comes up with a way of trying to infiltrate this group and to discover, go deeper into finding out who really is behind all this and how deep does this danger go.
[00:28:46] Host: He's able to use his god-like powers to transform his physicality to mimic Japanese incarceree.
[00:29:00] Gordon: That's one of the most bizarre things is that he transforms his face, his body into he becomes Japanese. This feeds into this, and in the rest of the storyline, this idea that you really don't know who you're talking to, and Japanese are particularly inscrutable, you don't know who they are, and Superman is able to do so because he's superhuman, but it raises the whole issue of conspiracy, of subversion, you don't know what's going on. Thus, he does that to infiltrate the subversive group and then locate, it turns out, this group of at first looks like these bad White guys who are outside the camp smuggling stuff in to these Japanese and somehow there's this line about how they're bad people of any race. That there is bad Whites too.
There's this anti-racist suggestion, but it turns out that these white guys are now take Superman, now a Japanese subversive, back into this huge hall underneath an oriental rug mark. Because you can't even. It's so silly. There're all these, looks like these white guys down there and at this certain gong Oriental gong they all take off mask or they transform themselves. They're not white, but they're actually Japanese, so it's just bizarre. It sees all these people, and this is, again, feeds into this thing of conspiracy, unknown, a danger, the danger from within is in some ways more threatening than the danger from without because you were able to identify the danger from without.
[00:30:43] Host: Not that it needs to be said, but there were zero incidents of subversion or of Japanese American colluding with an enemy. That these were all fantasy fear-based storylines. None of it came from truth.
[00:31:01] Gordon: Yes, that's before the internment camps. Afterwards there was not one incident of subversion or action that was detrimental to national interest. In fact, because of this twisted logic, because there were no incidents that some political commentators even said this was evidence that there was a conspiracy. Because there were no incidents. They said they had to be all in cahoots, there had to be collusion because you think, "Well, look, with this many people, of course, you're going to have some bad thing which would've been used against them." The fact there weren't any is also evidence there was a racial conspiracy.
Now all Japanese Americans were not in these internment camps. There were Japanese Americans in Hawaii or Hawaii population were thousands, tens of thousands of Japanese who were critical in working in the docks and the field, and so forth. There were Japanese Americans, thousands of Japanese Americans who lived in Chicago or west of the Mississippi, east of the Rockies basically who didn't have to go to these internment camps. All the 120,000 you said all lived basically along the Pacific coast. There were other Japanese and none of them were involved with anything.
"He was a liberal and wanted to insert that to say, 'Look, these are good Americans, they're out fighting and dying overseas, that the camps are being run humanely and they're being very disciplined and orderly in the camps, so there's no problem. Remember, they're good Americans too. It's just that we needed to do this because of the war exigencies. There was no time to separate the politically loyal from the politically disloyal.'"
[00:32:27] Host: Loyalty was a big part of the incarceration camps of trying to prove this loyalty of these citizens that were along the West Coast. This comic strip shows that concept of disloyalty amongst the people who were incarcerated. I know you wrote about how there was the push to encourage some discussion of the loyalty of Japanese Americans, of those that served overseas in the 442nd. The importance of just I think it was Philleo Nash and John McCloy as well who were encouraging the publishers of this comic strip and the writers to add that element. It wasn't added until that very last strip.
[00:33:22] Gordon: That's what Nash wanted to have to balance out any sense of suspicion of the attorneys and the racial disloyalty of Japanese. He was a liberal and wanted to insert that to say, "Look, these are good Americans, they're out fighting and dying overseas, that the camps are being run humanely and they're being very disciplined and orderly in the camps, so there's no problem. Remember, they're good Americans too. It's just that we needed to do this because of the war exigencies. There was no time to separate the politically loyal from the politically disloyal."
The strip ends with this where was it? Clark Kent or was it Superman? I forget who looks right at the reader and said, "These are all loyal, but we have to remember that a good number of them are fighting, dying for the country."
[00:34:21] Host: Eight weeks after reading this story of subversion and really trying to do damage to America there's that last little tail end, but everybody had already read the rest of the story.
[00:34:39] Gordon: Yes, it's highly too little, too late. It somehow has raised the conscious of these people and then they could say, “Look, Superman really did not uncover conspiracy and racial danger.”
"People would go to them to get their so-called information, not necessarily the news, as it's much more difficult as all traditional news organizations have faced these past years to put out serious journalism because serious journalism puts out information and readers by and large have to figure it out. That was in the tenets of good journalism. People don't want that. They want to have their fears or their beliefs validated."
[00:34:53] Host: With the large number of people who were reading this comic strip and not reading the rest of the newspaper. You don't read this and think like, "Well, I'm reading the truth." Obviously, most people will know this is a fictional story, but you are still swayed, public opinion can be swayed that there is a distrust or that you have to watch out for this specific group. It reminds me of how not news articles today but social media posts and memes will sway public opinion whether it's on how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic with no context or no truth to it.
[00:35:42] Gordon: Yes. We I think more than ever understand the power of visual images, the power of storytelling. Some people say go so far as everything now is storytelling, new front page of New York Times, the Fox News is all storytelling. It certainly there's the issue with that. There is interpretation. We have factual information, and it's a complicated world, but it's often easier to try to go for the simple story or the sensational story or the what-if story. We see that, and I'm not going to mention outlets, but they're all over the place which have proliferated with the internet.
People would go to them to get their so-called information, not necessarily the news, as it's much more difficult as all traditional news organizations have faced these past years to put out serious journalism because serious journalism puts out information and readers by and large have to figure it out. That was in the tenets of good journalism. People don't want that. They want to have their fears or their beliefs validated. They'll go to these different places just to go into the echo room where they'll just hear what they want to hear. There is no way of really having a more rounded discussion and people just don't read seriously anymore.
This comic strip, it really is very contemporary. People will read it. They ain't going to get their information from it or what they think they should know, and now they know about the internment camp because Superman has told him.
[00:37:20] Host: We'd like to thank Gordon Chang for his time, his expertise, and his passion. Medium History is produced by Chapman University's Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Past Forward. For more socially conscious content, visit pastforward.com or follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you podcast.
Past Forward is a curiosity company dedicated to educational accessibility.
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